Hello readers! Today we’re covering Warframe, a Free to Play MMO by Digital Extremes about Space Ninjas. What a mouthful.
I’ve been putting this review off. Repeatedly. A big part of this is the Open Beta status it has been hanging onto for around a year now. This is a game that has undergone severe changes across my hours of playing it, and thus my ultimate opinion of the game has vacillated wildly. Thus, this review will likely come off as a little conflicted. It’s half typical review, half deep analysis. The first part of this will run as normal, covering the major aspects of the game and if they ultimately succeed in what they’re trying to do. What comes next is nitpicking various systems that have managed to bother me over the course of my playtime, so feel free to skip it unless such matters appeal to you.
Warframe is based around the Tenno: an elite group of warriors that use weapons of all sorts and special abilities to destroy their enemies. They are relics from a bygone era, awoken from cryosleep to help protect the solar system from aggressors. These include the Grineer, mass cloned soldiers each wearing half a tank, and the Infested, an intelligent virus trying to propagate until it consumes everything. The Tenno start with minimal equipment, using the resources found in their attack runs to build bigger and better weapons to assault their foes. They also have amazing physical abilities, allowing them to run up walls and do cool tricks like slides and flips. As far as story goes, I like it. There are hints of mysteries still uncovered, and a newly introduced tutorial quest helps acquaint players with major mechanics in and out of battle.
Players will start near Mercury, taking more missions to open up more of the solar map. Each planet has a variety of missions available for it, ending with a boss fight that will reveal the next planet, and drop parts for a new warframe to use. As mentioned in the last paragraph, players can also construct new weapons by finding or purchasing the blueprints for them, using resources that drop in each mission in the building process. There’s even a subset of “Prime” weapons and frames, with better stats and cool white/gold designs.
The parkour system has the occasional hiccup, moments when you meant to climb onto a ledge but are instead launched off the wall like a ping pong ball, but otherwise it works very well. You feel more like a ninja than a space marine thanks to the movement system.
The environments are generated from tile sets, a random combination of available rooms for the given location. They get stale eventually, just as a result of how grind-based the game is. Additionally, some tile sets, like Infested Ships, are full of obstacles that just clash with the idea of flowing through a level, destroying enemies like some war-god made flesh. They’re even hard to find your way around in when walking, many times.
The gameplay is enjoyable to a point, but could use some difficulty balancing. At the start, your weapons will barely scratch most enemies, while in late-game you can eviscerate entire rooms in the time it takes to blink. In fact, the game gets a little boring at that stage, with only infinitely scaling difficulty modes maintaining any semblance of challenge. It also takes so much time and effort to reach that point that you may feel burnt out when it actually happens. That said, most MMO’s involve repeating some task endlessly, and in Warframe the task is killing lots of dudes with cool weapons and special attacks like throwing fireballs. That helps.
There is a weapon upgrade/customization scheme, employed through modification cards. These can be upgraded by fusing with other cards, and will improve the statistics of the weapon (or warframe) they’re plugged in to. It’s supposed to add more variety to builds, but in practice everyone uses the same damage/shield upgrades and forsakes everything else. That said, it feels good to turn your weapon of choice into a massive death-cannon.
The clan system is there, and provides a few nice perks beyond always having someone to play with. You can pool your resources to build a dojo, and research new weaponry. The dojo doesn’t have much reason to hang out in beyond a dueling ring and obstacle course, though.
The monetization system is passable, as it mostly saves time, and a number of weapons just aren’t available through anything but actual gameplay which helps somewhat helps the “Pay To Win” concerns. Also, cash won’t get you the sheer volume of fusion cores you need for your mods, the meat of your upgrade ability, to reach full strength.
All things considered, I believe Warframe is a fairly entertaining game while being Free To Play. I just recommend not playing it as much as I have.
Okay, now comes the heavy stuff. We’re also diving deeper into this game than any other I’ve talked about. If matters such as balance between weapons do not intrigue you, run while you can.
This game has a serious issue with power creep. For those unaware, power creep is when new elements, weapons, etc. introduced to the game render old ones obsolete, generally by having higher numbers. It devalues the equipment players worked hard for, and can make the easier areas seem trivial in difficulty. It’s a bad thing, is what I’m saying. This may not be an issue in the short term, but the longer you play the game, the more likely you are to be caught unaware by this phenomenon.
There aren’t many “old reliable” weapons or frames anymore, because the developers are always finding ways to ratchet up the difficulty, nerf the most powerful skills of old frames (which isn’t always a bad thing), and offer more powerful equipment to help cope. The melee weapons and damage system have been completely reworked, and a number of weapons that had niche uses no longer have a purpose.
For an example, see everything that used to ignore or pierce armor under the old system. Their numbers haven’t gotten higher, so now they’re just more generic weapons that serve as stepping stones to the real stuff. It also doesn’t help that some of the tweaked frames and weapons (ones that were formerly overpowered) were slapped down so hard that they’ll never be relevant again.
The Forma system, which lets you slowly add more polarity slots to a weapon or frame, does make a decent band-aid to this problem, allowing players to turn their old tech into moderately effective death-dealers in spite of mediocre starting stats. However, because all stat bonuses are percentage based, guns that start as crap will never be as good as the others could be, as the gap between weapons only becomes wider with mods.
Also, the mastery system, which is used to determine equipment unlocks, is utterly broken. Rhino, one of the most reliable and effective frames in the game, is available at rank 2. Rank 7 lets you build the Lanka, a railgun with handling issues, or the Supra, a laser MG that is kneecapped by the travel time on its projectiles. Wait, that doesn’t sound right. If Rank 2 gets you a tanky frame that works everywhere, Rank 7 should give you the death star or something, right? Not even a little bit.
(slightly out of date, but still demonstrates my main points)
Most weapons aren’t even included in the mastery system, just being available whenever. This would make sense for starting weapons, like the Braton assault rifle, but in a game where some weapons are wildly more powerful than others, the system is neglected when it isn’t being outright misused.
Weapons like the Lanka still have the ridiculously prohibitive build requirements from the day they were introduced, but they don’t have the effectiveness to warrant it compared to later-released weapons. Most released weapons these days have too low a mastery rank to stop anyone but complete newbies from building them. This translates to everyone always being able to use the latest and greatest right after obtaining the needed resources.
On top of this, the latest prime weapons and frames, which used to require actual gameplay to reach, are now available through ‘Prime Access.’ Combine this with what I said about newer weapons being noticeably stronger, and Warframe comes dangerously close to a “Pay To Win” system.
These issues have other consequences, too. A more meaningful Player Versus Player (PvP) system was recently introduced as a way to fight over Solar Rails, which give access to tougher areas. You wanna know what happens when you introduce PvP in a game where nothing is remotely balanced and the best tech can be bought with real money? Do you?
Complete and utter bullshit. Better yet, as a fellow on the forums pointed out, all this could have been prevented. PvP was already in the game, as a just-for-kicks game-mode. The fans highlighted a number of major issues that would need to be solved before PvP could become anything more. Needless to say, those issues plaguing the system then still exist today.
To be fair, Digital Extremes works very hard on their game. They put out patches and bug fixes at a steady rate. That said, they seem to be tone-deaf to their consumers, as heavily requested changes (such as the rework of Nova, Miss ‘Nuke the entire room and the next room over’) took months to complete, while others have gone unanswered. They are responsive, but it doesn’t seem to be fast enough to keep pace. Especially with the developers themselves introducing new weaponry every couple weeks.
Overall, I think the developers could do a much better job. They have the dedication, I’ve seen it in action. They just need to, in my humble opinion, spend more time polishing their otherwise amazing product before adding more odds and ends.